‘ONLINE ZAKAT,’ A NEW MODEL OF ISLAMIC FUNDRAISING PLATFORM THAT CLOSES INEQUALITY GAP
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For the first time since the project launch, Youth Co:Lab was organized 100% online, in compliance with measures to reduce travel and close contact to combat the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in numerous areas. Amidst the public health crisis that inflicts great difficulties upon every person’s life, we see the unmistakable brilliancy of opportunities coming from participants, who joined our online training and evaluation sessions despite travel-related limitations. Apart from youth with vision disabilities, those from the southernmost provinces also took part in co-creating innovation for sustainability, and was selected as one of the top 5 finalists to join the second round with their “one-stop platform for online zakat donation”, a project intended for systematic reduction of poverty and inequality.
The differences between each socio-cultural community provide room for knowledge exchange among the participants. Thai-Buddhist people generally perform meritorious deeds at will, whereas the Islamic way of merit-making differs. The alms-giving called “Zakat”, or tax that addresses social needs according to the principles of Islam, is a financial obligation to all Muslims whose wealth exceeds a threshold amount. In Thailand, Thai-Muslim people will donate 2.5% of the wealth they posses, and their payment must go to 8 groups of people eligible to receive zakat. In normal circumstances, distribution of zakat payment can be carried out by donors or zakat management organizations. However, during the pandemic outbreak, traveling outside to give out zakat seems a precarious burden. On the other hand, those affected by income loss are still waiting for support from the zakat management organizations.
A team of Muslim youth believe that they can solve this issue by modernizing the current zakat management system and alleviating poverty according to the principles of sustainable development. Therefore, they gather to develop a platform that turns offline zakat management into online administration. This mission may seem simple, but looking back at the local context, more resources are much needed for project development. They said that the online zakat donation platform already exists, developed by The Economics Alumni Association of Fatoni university. However, the said platform remains unfinished, with only the calculation system for different types of zakat put in place. Budgets needed for the development of a one-stop platform for online zakat donation are still lacking.
When asked about how this platform would reduce inequality and poverty in a sustainable way, this team broached a current social setting, in which a database containing information of zakat recipients was never fully systematized, and the level of transparency at zakat administration was never properly examined. This was because zakat management organizations never disclosed financial statements to the public, undermining zakat donors’ trust in the administration and leading them to pay zakat through other channels. Such alternatives to zakat donation may be more easily accessible and convenient, but the eligibility of zakat recipients was unverifiable. There were cases where zakat was transferred to the recipients who had already been paid, meaning that the donation distributed did not reach as many people as it should. The team’s new platform was expected to solve this alarming issue. Through this channel, zakat donors could calculate and pay zakat online. Recipients could apply for help, check their verification status, and confirm their application for zakat welfare. For related organizations, they could manage online funds through either the Headquarter or the local branch system, which would reveal financial statements to the public. More importantly, Zakat Recipients Map and Analytics Platform (ZRMAP) was developed to identify and locate zakat recipients.
This platform will answers the 4 remaining questions:
- Where are zakat recipients?
- How many are they in a village, sub-district, district, province and this country?;
- What kind of support do they need?
- How many people can stand on their own and lose their status as zakat recipients after one year of receiving welfare support?
This will allow zakat management organizations to plan a policy or a project that potentially responds to people’s needs or predicaments, such as career development, scholarships for students, and financial support for medical bills, food assistance, rent, home repairs and construction, debt, clothes, traveling, and technology and communication. The assistance program and zakat will reach the targeted groups with more precision, solving the issue of duplicate payment with the system that tracks, monitors, and evaluates zakat recipients individually or on a household level once a month for a period of one year. This system is intended for the development of zakat recipients and increasing the quality of life so that they can become future zakat donors.
“One-stop platform for online zakat donation” thus begins with people at the heart of the project, especially those encircled with inequality. The team members have systematically created an action plan, collaborating with boards of directors from 3 organizations in Yala province on the implementation of this pilot project on funding management. Application for zakat can be submitted to this platform, and volunteers from the partner organizations will conduct home visits and eligibility screening, before submitting the candidature for further consideration.
On the other hand, zakat donors can check the progress of welfare delivery in the recipients ’ areas as well as the organizations’ financial statements on this online platform. During Youth Co:Lab, this team has selected 3 target groups: those in needs, those in poverty, and new Muslims. After the platform is fully developed, they want to see more users navigating this platform, not only young generations of people with access to technology, but also other age groups. This will be proof of their project’s success.
This team emphasized that zakat payment was another influencing factor to improvement of the quality of life. Financial support from zakat could turn into scholarships for minor students, healthy food that fed every single member of a family, or resources for starting a career that would eventually lead zakat recipients out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Since the tenets of Islam defined zakat payment as a mechanism in improving the quality of life and alleviating poverty, and the financial obligation to qualified Muslims, this everyday practice should make an impact on people’s lives as much as possible. The team also stressed that this was but a small starting point for change. An efficient system would become meaningless without users or utilization for social transformation. In addition, there were obstacles that needed to be overcome, not only for this team, but also for the authorities, such as paper applications, duplicate data, and problems with real-time visualization of data from both sides. The solutions to these issues would require financial support and labour of platform administrators, but this team believed that this investment was worthwhile, because we would see people benefiting from this platform in the near future.
As of now, the estimated numbers of website visitors have reached 5,321, and users have already started paying zakat via this platform, part of which includes those working overseas who benefited from the convenience provided by the rapid calculation of zakat payment. This team hopes to promote their service after the system is fully developed. With this online platform, the coming social transformation will bring positive change to Muslim lives, and certainly have a major impact across the entire country.
Learn more about zakat and visit the website here.